Do I have to give two weeks’ notice when I quit a job?

When we interview people to work at Gold Star Law, we always ask when they would be available to start work if offered a position.  From people who are currently working, far and away the most common response is that they would like to give their current employers two weeks of notice before leaving.  Some even say they HAVE to give two weeks of notice.  Whether you think it is optional or mandatory, most people have at least heard of the concept of giving notice and understand some of the reasons why.  This article will address the idea of giving notice when quitting a job in greater detail.

First- are you REQUIRED to give two weeks of notice, or any notice, when you a quit a job?  The answer is “it depends.”  There is no specific law that requires that employees give their employers notice when they intend to leave, so in most circumstances the answer is “no.”  Employment in Michigan, by default, is at-will.  That means that unless there are circumstances changing an employee’s at-will status, such as an employment contract, the employment relationship can be terminated at any time and for any reason that is not an illegal reason.  In employment law, more often than not this is a default setting that works against employees because they can be fired for bad or non-existent reasons.  HOWEVER, at will employment is a two-way street.  As an employee, you can also end the employment relationship at any time and for any reason, unless there are other circumstances changing that part of your employment relationship.  This means that, unless there are special circumstances that specifically require that you give notice, you can quit and not give your employer any sort of notice at all.

So, what circumstances might require an employee to give their employer notice before quitting?  The most likely reason an employee would have to give two weeks’ notice, or any notice, is some sort of employment contract.  An employment contract can change an employee’s at-will status, sometimes only allowing the employer to end the relationship for certain reasons.  The contract can also have language addressing what happens if the employee wants to leave- including requiring notice.  An employee may have some sort of other agreement, other than an overall “employment contract,” that requires that the employee give some sort of notice if leaving. Technically, because of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the agreement cannot usually FORCE an employee to continue working if he or she wants to leave.  It can, however, penalize the employee for leaving without giving notice.  This penalty may be a monetary penalty, meaning the employee has to pay money or not receive all of the money he or she may otherwise receive from the employer, or it may be something else, like limiting the work the employee is allowed to do for anyone else for a certain period of time (often called a “non-compete.”)

In most circumstances, however, an employee is not required by law to give any sort of notice when leaving a job.  That leads us to the next question- should you?  Obviously, in most circumstances, employers would prefer being given notice before an employee leaves.  It gives the employer time to plan for the employee leaving, including scheduling, reassigning work, catching up on anything the employee was working on, and starting to look for a replacement.  Should you, an employee who is leaving a job, care what your soon-to-be ex-employer thinks?  Maybe.

When it comes to giving references for former employees, there are two types of claims we most frequently see.  The first is when an employer says something untrue and negative about a former employee, causing the employee to not get a job (called “defamation.”)  The second is when an employer does something wrongful to intentionally interfere with an employee getting or keeping a new job (called “intentional interference with a business relationship.”)  Neither of these prevents an employer from giving true, relevant information about a former employee.  If you leave without giving notice, your former employer could tell other potential employers “Yeah, he just quit without any warning and it put us in a tough spot- I would definitely not hire him back!”  Your employer could also give other relevant, truthful information you might not want shared, such as performance or attendance issues.

So, while you may have the OPTION to leave without giving notice, whether you want to is a judgment call for you to make.  You may be in an unbearable situation and need to get out.  You may have an offer for another job that won’t wait around two weeks for you to start.  Or, you may have the option to stay two more weeks without any sort of hardship, and you’d rather make two more weeks of pay and avoid the risk of a bad reference or any of the other problems that could arise from a bad relationship with a former employer.

It is important to note that even if you give two weeks’ notice, your employer does not have to keep you.  Many employers decide to end someone’s employment before the two weeks are up, often immediately upon hearing the employee wants to leave.  This is a decision an employer is allowed to make, and even though we get calls all the time from people who are upset that they did not get to work their two weeks, there is nothing we can really do about it.

If you have any questions or problems relating to employment law, call us for a free and confidential consultation.